By Aliki Kraterou
A physiotherapist has found a unique way to help disabled children improve their strength – by teaching them to swim with wild dolphins.
Igor Simões Andrade, from Manaus, Brazil, started the programme called ‘bototherapy’ in 2006, where he takes children with physical and mental disabilities swimming with wild pink dolphins in the Amazon River.
Igor works with kids with various conditions from Down Syndrome to cerebral palsy, for free- and has helped more than 600 children since he started.
Many of the children, who have lost limbs, are unable to move much at all when they start working with Igor – but after they learn to move and swim copying the movements of the dolphins, they improve their movement on dry land too.
Igor, who has a daughter, Maria Flor, 7, finances the project himself, by teaching yoga and his paid work as a physiotherapist.
The wild pink dolphins, known as ‘botos’ are familiar with Igor and always go close to him because of a trick he uses to attract them.
Igor said: “I have been swimming here with them for the past 15 years so the dolphins know me- I play with them and throw a ball for them to bring back, it’s a fun game for them and they are used to me now and always want to play.
“The kids parents are very grateful, They ask me a lot to go back.
“I teach the children about the dolphins and their environment so they learn to respect them.
“I say, ‘We are going into their environment and they have been here for 15 million years.
“They are such incredible creatures, you can see how they make the children’s eyes light up, it’s really amazing.
“There is a beautiful bond between the dolphins and the children, they are truly friends. Nobody forces the dolphins to be there, they are wild and play with the children on their own accord.”
Some of the children that Igor works with have gone from being confined to a wheelchair to actually taking steps unaided because of the physical benefits of the therapy, as well as the confidence swimming with dolphins brings them.
Since he started the therapy 13 years ago, he’s helped hundreds of children with severe disabilities whose parents couldn’t afford for them to have traditional physiotherapy.
Igor, who has studied veterinary science, where, had the idea of this project of animal assisted therapy, after spending time with horses and dolphins.
He added: “My work is based on trust, confidence and therapeutic resources, which come from physiotherapy, Rolfing and animal-assisted therapy.
“When I came to the Amazon saw the potential to develop the project of pink dolphins therapy.”